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Locally productive, globally connected self-sufficient cities.




More than 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, global urbanisation keeps accelerating. United Nations projections indicate that 75% of the human population will be living in cities by 2050. Newly created cities and the urbanisation process in rural areas replicate a lifestyle based on consumerism and the linear economy, causing destructive social and economic impact, while compromising the ecological systems of the planet. We are losing livelihoods through both offshoring and automation, and this in turn leads to the demise of dynamic hubs of practical and cultural knowledge, where things are made. Extreme industrialisation and globalisation have turned cities into the most voracious consumers of materials, and they are overwhelmingly the source of carbon emissions through both direct and embodied energy consumption. We need to reimagine cities and how they operate. The Fab City is an international initiative started by IAAC, MIT’s CBA, the Barcelona City Council and the Fab Foundation to develop locally productive and globally connected self-sufficient cities. The project is connected to the global Fab Lab (Fabrication Laboratory) Network and comprises an


international think tank of civic leaders, makers, urbanists and innovators working on changing the paradigm of the current industrial economy where the city operates on a linear model of importing products and producing waste, to a spiral innovation ecosystem in which materials flow inside cities and information on how things are made circulates globally. Fab City is about building a new economy based on distributed data and manufacturing infrastructure.

Tomas Diez - Fab City Research Laboratory Director



The Fab City Research Laboratory is an design and make think tank THE FAB CITY WHITEPAPER - www.fab.city

located at IAAC in Barcelona, that works in the development of the practical elements of the Fab City vision in collaboration with MIT’s CBA and Fab Foundation. The Fab City Research Laboratory looks at mall scale interventions as triggers for large scale impact in cities and society. It operates within the Fab Lab network, and uses it as a distributed source of local knowledge, invention and action in order to address global challenges in an open source and collaborative philosophy. Design for the real world. We believe in bringing products to life that solve real needs and are part of a spiral production strategy. We align different disciplines within our lab in the same direction. Design for liquid times. The world is not static, everything is constantly changing; we think in resilience terms, and connect with the emergent changes of the culture of today’s world. Products with an urban strategy. We operate in the scale of products, but we think in urban and global scales in terms of distribution, impact, socioeconomic change and cultural shift that those products carry with them. Small is powerful. We are urban strategists without an urban planning approach. We believe in emergent processes coming from small interventions and not by deterministic recipes coming from traditional planning.


Small scale interventions as triggers for large scale impact.

Image 1. Multiscalar Design Strategy. Source: Fab City




We need to reinvent our cities and their relationship to people and nature by re-localising production so that cities are generative rather than extractive, restorative rather than destructive, and empowering rather than alienating, where prosperity flourishes, and people have a purposeful, meaningful work that they enjoy, that enables them to use their passion and talent. We need to recover the knowledge and capacity on how things are made in our cities, by connecting citizens with the advanced technologies that are transforming our everyday life.


Image 2. Where do we make things? Source: Fab City


Image 3. The City: a linear trash machine? Graphic source: Fab City.


“Three projections to 2100 for waste generation spell very different futures. In the first Shared Socioeconomic Pathway scenario (SSP1), the 7-billion population is 90% urbanised, development goals are achieved, fossil fuel consumption is reduced and populations are more environmentally conscious. SSP2 is the ‘business-as-usual’ forecast, with an estimated population of 9.5 million and 80% urbanization. In SSP3, 70% of the world’s 13.5 billion live in cities and there are pockets of extreme poverty and moderate wealth, and many countries with rapidly growing populations.“

Data source: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Interpretation by Daniel Hoornweg, Perinaz Bhada-Tata & Chris Kennedy for “Environment: Waste production must peak this century“ published in Nature, October 30/2013 at http://www.nature.com/news/ environment-waste-production-must-peak-this-century-1.14032.

Today cities are linear trash machines. 9



For more than 10 years Fab labs have provided widespread access to modern means for invention and production. They began as an outreach project from MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) and have spread from inner-city Boston to rural India, from South Africa to the North of Norway. Activities in fab labs range from technological empowerment to peer-topeer project-based technical training to local problem-solving to smallscale high-tech business incubation to grass-roots research. Projects being developed and produced in fab labs include solar and wind-powered turbines, thin-client computers and wireless data networks, analytical instrumentation for agriculture and healthcare, custom housing, and rapid-prototyping of rapid-prototyping machines. Fab labs share core capabilities among the almost 1000 labs in operation as at April 2016, so that people and projects can be shared across them. These labs work with components and materials optimized for use in the field, and are controlled with custom software for integrated design, manufacturing, and project management. This inventory is continuously evolving, towards the goal of a fab lab being able to make a fab lab. Since 2001, the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) and the MIT’s


Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) have collaborated in the development of a new approach to architecture and urbanism by understanding how the use of digital technologies will impact our cities. Fab Lab Barcelona at IAAC was the first fabrication laboratory founded in the European Union in 2007, and the home of the global coordination of the Fab Academy program, the fablabs.io platform and the Smart Citizen project, turning it into a world leading lab for the Fab Lab Network in collaboration with the Fab Foundation. In 2011 IAAC, the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, the Fab Foundation and the Barcelona City Council launched the Fab City project at the FAB7 conference in Lima. In 2014 at FAB10 the mayor of Barcelona invited his colleagues around the world to join the Barcelona pledge: a countdown for cities to become at least 50% self-sufficient by 2054. In 2015 in FAB11 at Boston, 7 new cities joined the Fab City project, including Boston, Cambridge, Ekurhuleni and Shenzhen. This year (2016) Amsterdam city is joining the program, and we expect new cities to commit to the Barcelona pledge at the FAB12 conference in Shenzhen, potentially: London, Copenhagen, Paris, Santiago de Chile, and more. The Fab City initiative is open for other cities, towns or communities to join in order to collectively build a more humane and habitable new world.


From products in/ trash out to data in/ data out.



Fab City takes the ideals of the fab lab —the connectivity, culture and creativity— and scales it to the City. It is a new urban model of transforming and shaping cities that shifts how they source and use materials, from ‘Products In Trash Out’ (PITO) to ‘Data In Data Out’ (DIDO). This means that more production occurs inside the city, along with recycling materials and meeting local needs through local inventiveness. A city’s imports and exports would mostly be found in the form of data (information, knowledge, design, code). The Fab City project will help civic leaders develop locally productive cities in collaboration with local communities, companies and institutions, revitalising manufacturing infrastructure and incentivising a new economy. Fab Lab and makerspace based innovations could be a source for solutions to connect to real problems in cities, opening opportunities for businesses, research and education through projects. With its inherent zero waste and carbon reduction goals, linked to education, innovation, skills development and the creation of employment opportunities and livelihoods through the relocalisation of manufacturing, the Fab City approach can contribute to achieving a range of city objectives.




In this way, the citizens and the city are empowered to be the masters of their own destiny, their resilience is increased and a more ecological system is developed with movements of materials and associated energy consumption and carbon emissions typical of the current economy drastically reduced. In order for this to be possible, the city must be locally productive and globally connected to knowledge, economic and social networks, making cooperation between cities, citizens and knowledge centers the basis of the scientific knowledge. To become a Fab City requires having a more precise knowledge of the way cities work. The evolution of the project will make it possible to create better systems of capturing and analysing data, developing knowledge about a city, and will also require the implementation of an evaluation system and detailed monitoring. The Fab City strategy is unique in that it addresses a range of environmental, social and economic objectives (carbon reduction, waste minimisation, relocalisation of manufacturing and work) in a systems approach by harnessing new technology and production approaches. All of this is brought to a practical level by connecting with the existing


Fab Lab Network, a vast source for urban innovations being shared already globally by makers in more than 70 countries and more than a 1000 labs. The first city to become self-sufficient —simultaneously increasing employment by creating opportunities through open innovation, and radically reducing carbon emissions by re-localising production— will lead the future of urban development globally.

Locally productive, globally connected. 15


Image 3. A Multiscalar and complementary fabrication ecosystem. Source: Fab City


STRATEGIES The core Fab City strategy is the development of a global network of cities that are part of a sustainable ecosystem of production and


knowledge. From the 3D printer at home, to the neighborhood Fab Lab, to the city factory to global production infrastructure: a new manufacturing ecosystem to rescale globalisation and provide the means of innovation and production to citizens, who are empowered to lead the transformation of their cities. Becoming a Fab City involves working in the following specific strategies: Advanced Manufacturing Ecosystem: being part of a global network of cities that share knowledge and best practices on urban solutions emerging from citizens, companies, educational institutions, and governments. Local networks of Fab Labs and mid-scale production centers connected to the larger global network of supply chains, sharing knowledge, best practices and projects. Distributed Energy Production: with the advent of domestic batteries and efficiency improvements in solar and other means of clean power generation, energy distribution itself will face enormous changes. Distributed grids will change the role of households and businesses in power, water and resources distribution. Cryptocurrencies for a New Value Chain: cities creating their own trade markets connected to a global economy, using a multi-currency and value system based on the blockchain and similar technologies.


Food Production and Urban Permaculture: urban farming will scale up from experimental practice to large scale infrastructure. Local production of foods at domestic, neighbourhood and city scales will create a closed loop system for food production and harvesting. Educating for the Future: incorporating a stronger emphasis on learning-by-doing in education systems and curricula, and engaging all levels of education in finding solutions for local needs through digital fabrication technologies, and sharing them with global networks. Building the Spiral Economy: Reduce the amount of imported goods, food and resources like water or energy. Increase the use of recycled raw materials for the production of objects in cities. Create added value in every iteration of a new product. Collaboration between Governments and the Civil Society: Local government and civic organizations, start-ups, universities, and other organizations must work together in order to make a cultural shift that promotes the empowerment of cities and their citizens.

All these will be supported by technologies such as digital manufacturing, energy rehabilitation of buildings and neighbourhoods, smart energy networks, electrical mobility, urban permaculture, intelligent infrastructure, and related policy and regulatory approaches, among other solutions to be shared globally between cities.




This initiative offers a valuable economic opportunity for participating cities. It will create new types of jobs and professions related to the knowledge economy and the development and implementation of new approaches and technological solutions. The Fab City initiative will develop a set of associated services: Mapping the existing innovation and production ecosystems in cities. Understanding the existing manufacturing infrastructures, networks of knowledge, initiatives, communities and other organisations that are looking into systems change in participating cities. Establishing metrics to evaluate impact in each participating city. Developing common standards and sharing best practices in terms of local production. A Fab City data dashboard. Developing products that can be produced locally and shared globally. From objects to food, to waste management or energy harvesting solutions. A global Fab City repository. Deploying interventions. Running a Fab City Blockchain amongst the participating cities as a decentralised autonomous organisation.


Articulating with other groups of interest and networks. Fab City is not the only initiative looking into the future of cities, we aim to build bridges with existing research and initiatives that for years have been contributing to developing a better understanding of the urban living. Organising a yearly event at Fab Conferences and complementary events in different cities of the world. These associated services should lead to a business model for Fab City to exist as an international organisation, which will be established by its founding members (IAAC, MIT’s CBA and Fab Foundation) and by inviting associated members to share rights and duties.

Start the conversation in your city! 21



A concerted and coordinated response must be made to reimagine how, where and what we make if we are to live harmoniously within the bounds of the planet’s resources. We are proposing a model for cities to be resilient, productive and self-sufficient in order to respond to the challenges of our times and to recover the knowledge and the capacity to make things, to produce energy, to harvest food, to understand the flow of matter, to empower its citizens for them to be the leading agents of their own destiny. We have a unique opportunity to build cities from the ground up by synchronising philosophies, visions and objectives together with existing distributed innovation ecosystems, to consolidate and nurture a knowledge based economy that has been developed during the last decade around open source innovations, digital fabrication technologies and distributed digital networks in Fab Labs, Makerspaces and open communities. We want to create a global database of recipes on how things are made, from what and why. The Fab City is about radical transformation, it is about rethinking and changing our relationship with the material world, in order to continue to flourish on this planet.


Image 5. Globally connected production. Materials stay within accepted distances in cities and regions, information on how things are made travels. Source: Fab City




Image 6.Territorial ecosystem. Source: Fab City


Image 7. Fab City information Ecosystem. Source: Fab City


The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) is a center for research, education, production and outreach, with the mission to


imagine the future habitat of our society and build it in the present. IAAC follows the digital revolution at all scales (from bits to geography, from micro-controllers to cities, from materials to the territory) to expand the boundaries of architecture and design and meet the challenges faced by humanity. IAAC is an experimental and experiential center where one learns by doing, through a test methodology that promotes real solutions. IAAC is open, independent and radical; inspired by the values of Barcelona, the capital of architecture and design, where urbanism was invented and where a local high quality and innovation-oriented research is connected to an international network of excellence in technology, architecture and society fields. IAAC, beyond its educational and pro-research work, is an interdisciplinary and multicultural stable community that seeks permanent contact and cooperation among the hundreds of teachers, researchers, institutions and companies that have worked with us or that pursue the objective of provide solutions to the great challenges of humanity. IAAC is Education, with the Master in Advanced Architecture, the Master in City & Technology, the Master in Advanced Interaction, the Open Thesis Fabrication program, giving the next generation of architects and changemakers the space to imagine, test and shape the future of cities,


architecture and technology. This is also possible through the Fab Academy, a distributed educational model aiming to introduce anyone to Digital Fabrication. Not to mention the workshops and the short programs, implementing global agendas developed through local solutions, such as the Global Summer School. IAAC is Fabrication, with the Fab Lab Barcelona, the first and most advanced digital production laboratory in EU, and the Green Fab Lab, the first digital fabrication laboratory oriented to self sufficiency: two places where you can build almost anything. IAAC is Research, thanks to a series of projects and research funded by the European Union and developed in collaboration with public and private partners from all Europe, oriented to explore the role of technology in our societies and cities, giving it sense. IAAC is Self-sufficiency, with the Valldaura Labs, a self-sufficient research centre located in the Collserola Metropolitan park, surrounded by 140 hectares of forest, where a series of laboratories are implemented for the production and testing of Energy, Food and Things. IAAC is Outreach, through lectures, publications, exhibitions and competition. Thanks to initiatives like the IAAC Lecture Series, or the Advanced Architecture Contest, IAAC promotes its values in the discussion about architecture, cities, society and technology, facing the nowadays worldwide challenges.




Gershenfeld, Neil A. Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication. New York: Basic, 2005. Print. Gershenfeld, Neil. “Fab Lab FAQ.” Fab Lab FAQ. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. Diez, Tomas. “Personal Fabrication: Fab Labs as Platforms for Citizen-Based Innovation, from Microcontrollers to Cities.” Digital Fabrication: 457-68. Nexus Network Journal. 2012 Diez Ladera, Tomas. “The New Production Ecosystem. Personal, Distributed, Open Fabrication.” CCCB LAB RSS. CCCB, 04 Apr. 2013 Vicente Guallart. The Self-Sufficient City: Internet has Changed Our Lives But it Hasn’t Changed Our Cities, Yet.. ACTAR Press, Anaheim, CA, USA. 2014

Acknowledgements: This paper has been authored by Tomas Diez, using references listed, with contributions and revisions by Sharon Ede and James Tooze.


CONTACT Tomas Diez Ladera Fab City Global Initiative +34 692958102 tomas@fab.city

“I see the Fab City project as the end of the beginning of fab labs: what’s now important is not that they exist, but their impact.” NEIL GERSHENFELD Director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms 31



Profile for fabcity

Fab City Booklet  

Fab City is a global project to develop locally productive and globally connected self-sufficient cities. It comprises an international thin...

Fab City Booklet  

Fab City is a global project to develop locally productive and globally connected self-sufficient cities. It comprises an international thin...

Profile for fabcity